Rattlesnake Bite Fact and Fiction
The golden rule that every wilderness traveler should remember: Don’t put your hands and feet where you can’t see. Most rattlesnake bites occur on the extremities as you are gathering firewood or stepping over a downed log or rock pile. According to research from the University of Arizona, the majority of rattlesnake bite victims are male, 18-24 years of age, and intoxicated. And out of the 6500 bites that occur each year in North America, there are only 5-6 fatalities. The good news is that around 30% of rattlesnake bites are dry.
Also be aware that a snake’s bite reflex is intact for up two hours after it is dead. There have been cases where a driver has stopped to handle a semi-flattened rattler on the highway only to get nailed on the hand and envenomated!
If you follow these tips and still get struck by a venomous snake, your best remedy: your car keys -as in don’t waste time on folk remedies or snakebite kits. Time=Tissue. Use good wound care management by flushing the bite site with water, covering the wound with a bandage, and keeping the patient calm while you walk them to the vehicle and make for a hasty drive to the nearest hospital. Call enroute to let them know you have a snakebite victim.
The reason you want to avoid snakebite kits is because they do more harm than good by pooling the venom in one area. In a field experiment, a toxicologist envemonated live pigs with non-lethal doses of rattlesnake venom that was dyed purple. Immediately afterwards, numerous commercial snakebite kits were applied. Not only did he not get a single drop of venom out but the suction devices did more damage by concentrating the venom in one region of tissue than if it had been allowed to disperse. Snakebite kits, tourniquets, pressure wraps, or applying ice will only increase the tissue destruction. If you are in a remote region days from help or a soldier who may be deployed without immediate evacuation then most researchers recommend sticking to good wound care management, treating for shock, and avoiding constant movement. With so few fatalities in the U.S., statistics on our side but situational awareness is still your best tool for avoidance.
About the Author: Tony Nester is the author of seven books and three DVDs on survival. His school Ancient Pathways is the primary provider of survival training for the Military Special Operations community and he has served as a consultant for the NTSB, FAA, and the film Into the Wild. For more information, visit apathways.com.